Fast and Furious franchise star Vin Diesel likes to think of his blockbusters as a series of trilogies (the actor said as much in a recent interview on Jimmy Kimmel Live), and if there’s one member of the Fast and Furious franchise cast we don’t want to argue with, it’s – well, it’s The Rock, but Diesel is a close second. Still, Diesel appears to really be onto something here. The Fast and Furious franchise has turned into a global entertainment juggernaut, and it’s done that by virtue of its ability to pivot – in Silicon Valley parlance – from a one-off feature about car racing and small electronics boosting into a massive (and massively beloved) franchise about heists on a global scale (and cars just like, casually getting dropped from airplanes).
This shift hasn’t come without some bumps in the metaphorical road, however, including bouts of retconning and timeline trickery that are helped immeasurably by audience affection for the series (Tokyo Drift happens between Fast & Furious 6 and Furious 7? sure, okay!). But perhaps we don’t need to preoccupy ourselves with such issues, because there’s a new way to look at the Fast and Furious franchise that eases up on those very problems. It’s not a franchise. It’s a series of trilogies (and, yes, there is a difference).
It’s easy enough to break the seven films down into neat, nifty little trilogies – the kind that don’t necessitate the sort of moving and grooving that puts Tokyo Drift, the third film to hit theaters, in some strange land in between both Fast & Furious 6 and Furious 7 — that rely on tone and plot (instead of timeline placement) to hold them together. Let’s take a look:
Trilogy 1 – Racing
The Fast and The Furious, 2 Fast 2 Furious, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
The first three films, while steeped in criminal activity, are principally about street racing. While Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner (then an FBI agent, ah, the salad days of being on the right side of the law) first meets the crew/family because he’s investigating their panache for stealing electronics from random truck drivers, the majority of the film’s action is about zoom-zoomy cars and generally driving at inadvisable speeds. The danger of heisting is there, but it’s not the prevalent theme (that will, of course, come later). 2 Fast 2 Furious does something similar – sets Brian up as a crime-fighter, sprinkles in illegal activities, and puts the onus on car racing to really, ahem, drive thing home. Tokyo Drift speaks for itself.
Trilogy 2 – Heists
Fast & Furious, Fast Five, Fast & Furious 6
By the time we reach the second trilogy in the series, racing has taken a backseat to crime. Of course high speed driving and well-honed steering skills are essential to said crimes (and even busting people out of prison!), but the shift is obvious: these are now films about major criminal operations. And it doesn’t get more major – and more jaw-dropping – than the vault grab in Fast Five, a sequence that announced the franchise’s interest in going full heist.
Trilogy 3 – Espionage
Furious 7, planned upcoming eighth and ninth features
Diesel has also made it plain that Kurt Russell’s Mr. Nobody, who shows up in Furious 7, is expected to return for more action – like maybe a planned two-part farewell that Justin Lin is rumored to return to direct? By the seventh film, the crew has moved past just car racing and just high stakes criminal activity into something that looks far more like actual espionage (even the kind aided and abetted by government agencies). Just like the steady change from racing trilogy to heist trilogy, the threads are all in place – as far back as the end of Fast Five, the team was working alongside The Rock’s government agent Luke Hobbs. The government, once the major baddie of the series, is now close to something like a boss, or at least a steady pal. That transition will likely become complete by the eighth film, leaving the ninth film to wrap it up, and oh, yeah, probably set the stage for yet another trilogy.
Our guess? Space.